Located around 16 miles south of Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a very active geothermal area filled with mud pools, volcanic sulphur pools and the famous Lady Knox Geyser.
My parents and I had travelled south from Auckland the previous day and stayed overnight in the quaint town of Rotorua. During the summer months, I can see the place as a hive of activity as it’s ideally placed for lots of outdoor adventure activities, in the winter months it is quite quiet although there is still plenty to keep you occupied, if like me you spend 2 days here. I was also extremely happy as there is a Starbucks in the centre of town.
Our main reason for choosing to stay here was that my mum wanted to visit Wai-O-Tapu and see the Lady Knox Geyser, while it does erupt randomly throughout the day, every morning at 1015 am the park rangers do a short presentation and induce the eruption for the tourists using some environmentally friendly soap. Wai-O-Tapu is around a 35 – 40 minute drive through some amazing scenery from Rotorua so it was an ideal location to stay, which didn’t involve getting up ridiculously early to travel there!
This region of Auckland is very geothermal active and there are multiple thermal valleys and parks, including in Rotorua itself, but I highly recommend travelling out to Wai-O-Tapu. We arrived around 0930 and purchased our entrance tickets (around NZ$ 35) from the visitor centre, which admits you to the main section of the park which they call Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and also to the Lady Knox Geyser presentation. The Lady Knox Geyser isn’t actually inside the main park, so we headed back out to our car for the short (few minutes) drive to the car park at the Geyser – during the day you can wander into the site of the Geyser at will, for free, but for the presentation they check your tickets as you enter the car park area. At 1015 one of the park rangers (can’t think of a better name for them) arrives and does a short presentation about the history of the Geyser and the area – including an amusing story about how it was found by prisoners from a nearby prison – who having discovered it and its hot water – were washing their clothes in it when the soap caused a reaction to occur deep underground and blasted their clothes 20m into the air.
It gets busy for the presentation as it’s a very popular attraction – in the summer I guess it’s packed as it was busy enough in the middle of winter. After the presentation, everyone seems to rush back to the visitor centre and into the main park where you can easily spend several hours wandering around. The park itself has clearly marked walkways and while high heels or sandals probably aren’t a good idea, you’ll be fine with trainers or shoes. The handy guide map they provide when you enter has three trails indicated on it. Depending up on how much walking you want to do you can either stick to the initial train which takes a little over 20 minutes or you can wander your way around it all taking around one to two hours.
Amongst the hot springs, mud pools and craters you’ll find the fluorescent green Devils Bath.
Something that we almost missed and I think lots of people possibly do as it was totally deserted – after you have left the main park, drive back up the road towards the Lady Knox Geyser, continue straight on and you will come to a cut off signposted as Mud Pools – like the Geyser these aren’t inside the main park, so are free to access, but you’ll find a huge mud pool bubbling away.